Treasured memories linger in our minds to be nourished in our hearts. Frequently, retrieved thoughts — centered on those who nurtured us, laughed at us and with us, instructed us, cared about our welfare, and encouraged our talents — sustain and strengthen us. Blood relatives flood genealogical charts and function as pen-and-ink illustrations upon family trees; yet, that word “family” also connotes friends and acquaintances we encounter throughout our lifetimes.
Louise Easterday called me yesterday. We chatted about Treva Wolfe who died last spring. Mrs. Wolfe and her husband Lawrence worked side by side with my father for decades – three employees of one company called Blue Bell, Incorporated. The Wolfes, who never had children, eventually traveled to western states and foreign countries to develop new factories engaged in the manufacture of Wrangler jeans and bib overalls. After Lawrence died, Treva ventured alone to Scotland and South Africa, a woman ahead of her time. I grew up loving her sparkling personality…and I adored her nephew and my high school classmate Mike Crampton.
Recently, our new Peabody Library director Mary Hartman (Mary Hartman!) directed me to one of the installments of Jon Pontzius’s 25 part DVD series of oral history interviews with Columbia City citizens. Treva, dressed to the nines, fielded Jon’s questions well, hesitating occasionally in her recall of some 95 years of living, 48 of those employed by one company.
She spoke of her childhood in Larwill and the overwhelming responsibility of helping to raise her five younger siblings. She remembered wearily, yet spunkily, suggesting that her parents should stop bringing children into the world since her own multi-tasking roles of accomplishing farm chores, sewing kids’ clothing, and baby-sitting sapped her otherwise youthful energy.
She described herself as a “pinch-hitter”, commenting that males once stitched together military uniforms at our plant during World War II, later transferring — post-war — to heavier labor. Returning veteran Bill Winters commenced his 30 year “tour of duty” as an integral part of the Wrangler family in 1948. With Treva as his supervisor and my dad, who always proclaimed that he “kept Bill around for entertainment”, bribing him with a tempting offer of a “25 dollar bonus to attend Old Settlers’ Festivities” IF Mr. Winters would sew waistbands on 85 pairs of dungarees within one hour, Bill not only got his fill of Ferris wheel rides and cotton candy but also a promotion to Lawrence Wolfe’s Shipping Department in record time. Later, Bill Winters traveled to Scotland, Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina as a highly respected Cutting Room Consultant.
Mrs. Wolfe referred to my “East Coast” (?) dad – her “boss” assigned by the Greensboro headquarters in North Carolina to manage the Midwestern Division in 1942 — a bit condescendingly as “Mister Y’all”. Always a forgiving soul, I laughed out loud! (Do check out this vast collection of fascinatingly preserved interviews available at our library!)
Recanting a tad from my usual lamentations that the “art” of conversation may have died, Mary Johnson Mcmanama and I enjoyed giggling and reminiscing recently via that archaic method of a telephone chat! She remembered that our junior high/high school, rather famous, choir director daily smelled so divine because of an application of “White Shoulders” perfume behind each ear. I recalled that Hazel Munns’ wardrobe impressed as exquisite and that my sister Sarah claimed Hazel purchased only six new outfits every 5 years at top price in Chicago, then replaced those sophisticated garments with another shopping trip to the Windy City. Since Hazel and her husband Merrell occupied an upstairs apartment in the former home of Governor/Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, one need only tour the present Whitley County Historical Museum to note that closet space was/is at a minimum. (Our teacher stored her Christmas poinsettias in Tom Marshall’s closets annually – miraculously the plants thrived to greet another holiday season totally intact!)
Museum curator Dani Tippmann and historical society board member Pat Heinbaugh researched the childless Munns couple and answered many of my questions ignited by the phone gab between me and my school chum. Non-pianist Hazel Munns, equipped with a pitch pipe or harmonica, masterfully conducted eager voices raised in song in our town from 1927-1962, having financed her earlier education through turns as a silent movie violinist, theater usherette, a choral stint at NBC, and brushing up against Fred Waring (himself) and his Pennsylvanians. Our community fortunately benefitted from her skills, and her innumerable “children” ranged from Terry Smith’s mom Ada and dad Stuart all the way to Mary and me. Mrs. Munns announced to all qualified “sight-reading” sixth grade choir members that one of us would, as a high school senior, win a wonderful prize called the Arion Award. I minded my “p’s and q’s”, performing a sufficient number of concert solos with minimal stage fright for a half dozen years. Presently, that precious ribboned medal graces my mantelpiece.
Last week, another land phone exchange between childhood pal Peggy Gaylord and myself transported us both back in time, to sunny afternoons spent engaging in “dress-up”. Resembling over-decorated, miniature, mobile Christmas trees, we awkwardly clopped through the newly mown grass as we sported our moms’ high heels and earrings. We paraded like runway fashion divas in and out of my Line Street backyard “playhouse” or all about Mr. Marshall’s former “estate” nestled on Jefferson Street. Peggy lived in the downstairs apartment with her parents, Irma and George. (Grandpa Roy Gaylord worked at Blue Bell as the groundskeeper, and when his son moved to Ft. Wayne, Peggy would return on week-ends to visit her C.C. grandparents. For several years, my dad would drop by Roy’s to drive Peggy and me together to Sunday School at Grace Lutheran Church.) Now senior citizens, we recalled Mrs. Munns cheerfully interrupting our playtime occasionally with home-made confections of succulent fudge and taffy candies wrapped in wax paper, while she hung Mr. Munns’ salesman shirts and signature white floppy hats upon the clothesline to whip about in the summer breeze.
Funny, those no longer physically present in our lives dreamily mingle with folks directly in front of us, when we share our stories and recollections. Although childless, Hazel and Treva both touched the lives of so many kids, as one lady clothed the nation’s and the world’s children and the other taught so very many of us to sing out harmoniously and proudly and to appreciate music. Careerist Treva discovered the world of ballroom dancing at an Arthur Murray Studio…and fox-trotted and waltzed for 23 years. Hazel Munns produced amazing choruses of enthusiastic students blending voices during “one season following another” for 35 years.
Treva, laughing with Jon Pontzius regarding her credo “once a Wolfe, always a WOLF”, wistfully recalled that she and Lawrence owned mouth-harps as youngsters and warbled duets with one another. “While other kids were doing ornery deeds, we performed music which people loved to hear.” I remain uncertain whether Mrs. Wolfe and Mrs. Munns might have been best friends or ever even met each other; nevertheless both were models of gentle determination enhancing our community. Happily, their melodies linger on – to this very day!
*Song title from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Many, many thanks to Louise Easterday for her suggestion of this topic, and to Bill Winters, Bob Kellogg, Pat McNagny, Mary McManama, Peggy Gaylord, Jean Simon, Gloria Glass, Terry Smith, Eileen Cira, JoEllen McConnell, and Evelyn Zumbrun for sharing their reminiscences in real time. Dani Tippmann, Pat Heinbaugh, Jon Pontzius, and Mary Hartman graciously provided their services to aid my research.